Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Why atheists change their minds


Of course, for some atheists, the fact that an atheist leaves the atheist fold is proof that they were never real atheists in the first place (the atheist equivalent of Perseverance of the Saints).

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Who's to say?

Actually this depends on your view of moral values. Some people think that moral values are objectively valid, that is, they hold regardless of what people say. Thus, if everyone in society says that people over 65 should be killed, it is still wrong objectively to kill them. Some people believe this because of a belief in God’s commandments. Others just think, like atheist philosopher Erik Wielenberg, that moral statements are just objectively true even without God. Others think that morals are determined by individuals or cultures. What that means is if a culture decides, for example, that it is obligatory for young girls to get female genital mutilation, then it is true for that culture, and no one has the right to say that is wrong. Though,, that’s not quite accurate, since if morals are relative to culture, and your culture says you should condemn and be intolerant of other cultures, then you should be intolerant of other cultures.

We could also ask, who is the state to tell a murderer that he has done the wrong thing?

Human rights and moral objectivity

It is part of the idea of a human right that it exists even when it is being violated. If someone is born a slave and dies a slave, defenders of human rights will say that the slave nonetheless has the right to liberty. What sense can be made of this idea? The best sense I can make of it is that there is an objectively binding moral obligation on the part of everyone to permit this person to be free, and that those who are enslaving him are violating that. The idea of human rights seems to entail moral objectivity, and on the view that there are no moral facts, it is hard to see what human rights could mean. 

Sunday, January 21, 2018


Jumbo Shrimp
Military Intelligence.
Business Ethics.
Reality Television Show.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Belief, unbelief, and the establishment clause

It would be very odd if our government were to make it legal to practice any religion  you wanted to, so long as  you practiced one, but prohibited you from lacking any religion at all. So, freedom of religion includes freedom from religion. But does freedom from religion involve more that this? If so, what? 
Suppose a religious professor at a state college were to make it his goal to get as many students to believe  his religion as possible. There seem to be at least some things he could do (for example, making it clear that anyone who wrote a paper in opposition to his religious beliefs would almost certainly get a failing grade), that would give the student grounds for suing based on the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. 
Now, suppose an atheist professor were to make it his stated goal to get as many students to become atheists as possible.  Are there things he could do that would give a religious student grounds for suing based on the Establishment Clause? Or, since it's nonbelief instead of belief, that's different? 

Hamilton and the Electoral College: Independent Electors, or an Alternative Counting System?

It is quite true that, from the point of view of the Constitution which determines how these things go, Trump is legitimately President despite getting less popular votes than Hillary. But if you buy the argument that we are a Republic and not a Democracy, and that is why we have the Electoral College, then you would have to accept Hamilton's justification for the EC, which is that people can't really be expected to vote directly for the President, (since they may be unfamiliar with the candidates, which was often the case in the early days before communication improved), but should instead trust the decision of the President to electors more familiar to them than the candidates whose judgment they could trust. Hamilton described electors in this way: 
"...men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice." 
But nowadays, we know all about the candidates and nothing about the electors, and the allegiances of the electors is guaranteed by the political parties to which they are affiliated. Although electors occasionally "go rogue," their votes are signed, sealed and delivered to the candidate whose party selected them.  The idea of Republic v. Democracy is that we select representatives to vote for President who have an independent voice. But they don't. They are the hacks of political parties. 
What the electoral college creates is an alternative counting system which favors citizens of smaller states over citizens of larger states. But that is not the original concept of the Electoral College. Hamilton would not recognize his creation if were to come back today. 
Is there any good reason to have an alternative counting system? I have my doubts. 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Cultural Relativism and that Illinois frat house

I was told when I was a grad student at the University of Illinois that there was a fraternity on campus that considered a girl's being on the second floor of the frat house with an alcoholic beverage to constitute consent. Isn't the frat house a culture? And if cultural relativism is true, then wouldn't that make raping a girl who came to the second floor with a drink in her hand morally acceptable? 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Will an ethics class help you be ethical?

A lot of our moral decisions occur when we know what the right thing to do is, and we are trying to find the guts to do it. In this type of situation, an ethics class won't help you. In fact, it might do  harm, because it might give you an excuse to come up with rationalized reasons not to do what you know is right. (What if, what if, what if.......) 
On the other hand, other issues are hard to decide from a moral point of view. If that is the issue, that is, an issue where moral reasoning is needed, then this course can be helpful. But no class is going to give you moral fortitude. 

Abortion and the right of privacy

The fetus has human DNA and the potential to develop into something with all the characteristic of human personhood. Depending on the stage of pregnancy, it lacks certain of the occurrent mental states that humans have. It is a borderline case. On my view it is of considerable value whether we think of it as fully a person or not fully a person. Our cats are not people, but I will get very very angry if you kill one of them. The Supreme Court decided that a woman had a knowable right to privacy with respect to her own reproductive medical decisions, and the fetus's right to life, as best they were able to ascertain, was not knowable. So, for legal purposes, the woman's right to privacy has to take precedence over the fetus's right to life, since we can be sure of the former but not the latter. Even the dissent in Roe, and the subsequent arguments of anti-Roe justices like Scalia, have not attempted to argue that the right of the fetus to life is knowable. Instead, they have tried to argue, and on my view not very plausibly, that the woman's right to privacy isn't really established, but is a product of judicial activism. People who vote Republican (and even vote for a Republican Presidential candidate whose pro-life convictions are highly suspect) in order to get Roe overturned are hoping for justices who will undercut the status of the right of privacy. But I think it's not judicial activism, I think there is a legitimate right of privacy. 

Catholic politicians such as Joe Biden believe that, as a matter of revealed truth, we can know that fetuses are persons. However, he agrees with the Supreme Court that the personhood of the fetus isn't knowable by all citizens, and he agrees with the Supreme Court that a woman's right to privacy implies a right to an abortion unless a countervailing right of the fetus to life can be established as knowable by all citizens. Therefore he believes that the current status of the law is correct with respect to abortion even though he also believes, as a Catholic, that fetuses are persons.

Morality and the causal structure of the world

 Morality needs to connect with the causal structure of the world. If morality means anything at all, it has to be a reason why we do some of the things we do. "I decided I couldn't cheat on my taxes. It would be wrong." "She was so beautiful, and so seductive, but I remembered my marriage and realized it would be wrong to sleep with her." "I can't keep working at this car dealership. I have to keep lying to customers, and it's just wrong." This is one problem I have with Wielenberg's Robust Ethics, morality is causally inert for him. But it can't be. Yet, at least naturalistic atheism believes in a causally closed world of physical and only physical causes. Morality, even if it exists, doesn't do anything. If you believe in automonous ethics, we need an account of how that realm can have something to do with the actual occurrence of moral conduct. Christian theism has a way of doing that. Naturalism does not.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Are the Ethics of Belief Objective?

 If all versions of robust ethics without God a la Wielenberg fail, and atheism leads to moral subjectivism, then we could say that if there is no God everything is permitted. That includes racism, sexism, homophobia, and believing in God without a shred of evidence.

There is no Plan B

If you think Christianity is about your physical wellbeing here. If you think Christianity is about your living the American Dream. If you think Christianity is about your having an improved lifestyle here, then you are going to question the truth of Christianity when hardship comes because the Lord doesn’t promise you those things.
Therefore, it is paramount that we have a correct understanding of what Jesus promised and didn’t promise if we are to have confidence in what Jesus is doing to and through us on planet Earth. Jesus promised to be with you through suffering; He didn’t promise that you would avoid it. I tell my classes, “God’s Plan A for your life is to take you through regular periods of suffering and there is no Plan B.” Suffering purifies us and, if we bear it while continuing to honor God, it proves to humans and angels that we really are His disciples— Clay Jones (from, The Major Reason Christians Doubt)

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Donald Trump and the baker

President Donald Trump divorces Melania, and becomes engaged to the beautiful Svetlana Putina, the 27-year-old daughter of Vladimir Putin. He contacts Fabulous Cakes and Designs, owned by evangelical Christian baker Jack Graham, who is asked to bake a YUGE cake for a wedding at Trump Tower. Graham refuses, on the grounds citing Matthew 9:19. 

I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery."

Besides, the President is a known serial adulterer and p**** grabber, whose disrespect for the institution of marriage is well-known. 

The infuriated President files a suit with the Civil Rights Commission, claiming discrimination on the basis of marital status. 

Reductio? No, the defender of religious freedom can just support the baker, not Trump. 

Monday, January 01, 2018

Andrea vs. Hillary on Female Genital Mutilation: Who is right?

How can I argue against a culture I haven't tried to understand? Is it relevant that I, an outsider, may find [clitorectomies] cruel? As hard as it is for me to admit, the answer is no. To treat the issue as a matter of feminist outrage would be to assume that one society, namely mine, has a privileged position from which to judge the practices of another.—Andrea Park-1992.

"We cannot excuse this as a cultural tradition. There are many cultural traditions that used to exist in many parts of the world that are no longer acceptable. We cannot excuse it as a private matter because it has very broad public implications. It has no medical benefits. It is, plain and simply, a human rights violation,”-Hillary Clinton, 2012.